14 Things You Didn’t Realize You Could Do to Pay off Debt

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When the phrase “It’s fun to” comes up in conversation, it’s probably not followed by “pay off credit card debt.”

Paying off debt is associated with living under a rock, eating ramen noodles and cutting the bottom off your toothpaste tube to get the last bit — none of which are very “fun.”

But here’s the thing: Paying off debt doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t even mean reverting to listening to concerts from outside the venue and eating your friend’s leftovers from your favorite restaurant.  

Here’s How to Pay off Credit Card Debt and Still Have a Life

Achieving freedom from debt just means getting creative with the resources available to you. And we love getting creative. Here are some clever ways to pay off your credit card debt without giving up fun.

1. Figure out Exactly What You Owe

James Cooper poses at Perry Learning Center in Jonesboro, GA
Matt Odom for The Penny Hoarder

To pay off all your debt, you have to know how much you owe.

Um, duh?

Seriously though, when’s the last time you looked at all your debts and their interest rates to devise a payoff plan?

That’s what I thought.

A really easy way to do this is to get a “credit report card” from Credit Sesame.

Credit Sesame is like your favorite teacher from high school — without the pop quizzes.

It gives you a free credit score, plus lays out your credit history so you can see exactly how much money you owe and to whom. It even tells you your monthly payments and interest rate, as well as which debts (if any) are in collections.

And you don’t have to stay home to do it. The Credit Sesame app lets you keep track of your credit score and ways to improve it — on the go!

For example, it might recommend a mortgage lender, credit card or debt refinancing, based on your needs and chances of being approved.

James Cooper, a motivational speaker, raised his credit score 277 points using Credit Sesame. Now he talks to high school students about the importance of having good credit and uses what he’s learned through Credit Sesame as a blueprint for his lessons.

“We want to touch the Z Generation,” Cooper says “We’re not in the business of fixing credit. We want to get to you before you have to fix your credit.”

2. Get a Lower Interest Rate

man using phone and checking credit card
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A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

3. Stop Deleting Your Emails 

woman out shopping in the city
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It turns out deleting your emails could be costing you money. Intrigued?

One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It's free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.

Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get compensated.

4. Get Some Help Paying off Lingering Debts

A credit card is being cut in half.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Have you ever considered consolidating your debt? It could substantially lower payments you’re already making and help you save more money each month.

A lot of us are being crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. If you’re in that boat, consolidation and refinancing might be worth a look.

A good resource is online lending platform Upstart, which can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.

Unlike traditional underwriting models that use only the common FICO scoring model, Upstart’s technology looks at factors like your education and employment history to determine your creditworthiness.

It can help you borrow up to $50,000, potentially with better terms (e.g. lower interest or lower monthly payments) than traditional lenders. If managing many different bills and credit lines is a hassle, you can also use an Upstart loan to streamline all of your loans into one.

Not ready to consolidate but still want to pay down your debt?

An app called Qoins can help you get debt-free without really thinking about it.

Qoins rounds up each purchase you make to the nearest dollar. The app tracks the roundups and makes withdrawals in about $5 intervals that it automatically pays toward a debt account of your choice each month.

How it works:

  1. Add your lender (the account you want to pay off).
  2. Connect your checking or other bank account.
  3. Start saving and automatically paying down your debt.

Users report saving an average $50 a month to put toward their debts. Once you sign up, Qoins waits a month before making a deposit on a debt account so you have some extra time to save.

Even better: If you download the app now, you’ll get your first month free. It’s $1.99 a month after that — but that’s worth the piece of mind, right?

5. Make Extra Money While You Watch TV

man drinking beer on couch with dog
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

For those times you choose the frugal route and stay in for the night, why not cash in on your free time? Survey sites aren’t the fastest way to earn money, but they’re a great way to build a little savings while you veg out.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Swagbucks is definitely a reader favorite, probably because of the wide variety of ways to make money beyond taking surveys. Plus, you get $5 just for signing up and taking your first survey.
  • InboxDollars offers several short, daily surveys you can take. If you take all of them each day, you could earn an extra $730 a year — not too bad.
  • MyPoints: This platform lets you earn gift cards for taking polls, answering surveys and other things you do online — a great way to cash in on long lines or an endless commute. You’ll earn a $5 bonus when you complete your first five surveys.

6. See How Your Finances Stack up to Your Peers’

Five professionals stand along a wall holding electronic devices.
PeopleImages/Getty Images

Picture this: You’re sitting across from your longtime friend at the local diner. You catch up on life, then, because you’re curious, you ask your friend about her income, her student loan debt and her savings.

How many of you just cringed?

Most of us don’t have friends — or even family members — who are willing to talk explicitly about these numbers.

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers without asking those awkward, prying questions. Tap into this database and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

7. Save Your Digital Change

Dana Sitar reviewing apps on phone and laptop at home
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself consider starting an investment account through Acorns.

Acorns is an app that automatically rounds up your credit or debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the spare change.

That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account. Once you hit $5, Acorns will automatically invest it.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate of $420 a year with the app!

Acorns will give Penny Hoarders a $5 bonus for signing up and average interest earning is around 7%.

Passive income!

8. Get Some Help Paying Your Credit Card Bills

A father sits at a desk working while his daughter sits on his lap and uses a calculator.
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Carrying more than one credit card balance can feel a bit like herding cats. Just when you think you have one under control, you realize you’ve let a different one slip away.

High interest rates and late fees can make it feel like you’ll never get those bills under control.

That’s where Tally comes in. It’s a simple app that lets you store and manage your credit card payments in one place, optimizing the amounts and times.

Simply download the iOS app, scan in your credit cards, and if you qualify (with a minimum credit score of around 675), Tally will give you a line of credit with an interest rate between 7.9% and 19.9%* and use the lower interest rate to make managing your payments easy.

No more missed payments. Lower interest rates. All in one place. And don’t worry, Tally uses bank-level security, so your information is safe.

Tally is currently available in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

*Your APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will depend on your credit history and varies with the market based on Prime Rate. Accurate as of July 2018.

9. Pay Your Student Loans off Faster  

Two college students pose in their graduation caps and gowns.
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For some, a lower interest rate could be one of the best steps to paying off student loans.

Try getting a lower interest rate on your federal and private loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.

Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one (or a few) loans that bring all of your student debt under one umbrella.

This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.

It might seem like a small difference, but a lower interest rate can mean a lot of savings over time. It’s helping grad Ashley Williams save more than $18,000 in interest over the life of her loan!

10. Start Investing Like a Pro — and Get a $5 Bonus

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Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to make money.

Sometimes, though, it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.

But Stash is different. This app lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.

Stash curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money.

But it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it. You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

Bonus: Right now, The Penny Hoarder is teaming up with Stash to fund your first investment — so you’ll get a $5 bonus when you enter the code PENNYH

11. Play the Slots — and Earn More Interest Than at Your Bank

woman using phone at casino
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Are you more of the “sit at home and play video games” type of person but you’re making yourself read this because you’re determined to get this adulting thing down?

The folks who created Long Game have you covered with a game that’s fun and helps you achieve your financial goals.  

As you save and accomplish missions you’ll earn coins to play mini games for cash prizes! We’re talking the classics, like slot machines, scratch-offs and spin-to-win wheels.

Penny Hoarder Carson Kohler uses Long Game to save money. Every two weeks, it sneaks $5 out of her bank account and rewards her with coins.

In two months, she’s saved $35.70, just by playing games on her phone. Plus, her winnings amount to a gain of about 2% — way higher than interest on any other savings account she has.

Once you link your bank account, you’ll earn 300 points, so you can start playing while you wait for payday.

12. Get Paid for Getting the Next Round on Your Night out

Kelsey Buxton, Stamatios Kapous, and Justin Morrison head to a happy hour in the downtown area of St Petersburg.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

We want you to have fun — but if you’re not careful, it’s easy to blow your entire beer budget in one weekend — after which you’ll be stuck drinking $3 wine at home by yourself while your coworkers hit up happy hour.

Luckily, there’s a way to earn cash back on alcohol.

Yeah, seriously.

Ibotta is an easy-to-use cash-back app that’s partnered with more than 50 retailers offering deals on many of your favorite brands.

The app features both liquor store deals and cash back on drinks from any restaurant or bar.

We’ve seen deals like $5 back on 750-milliliter or 1-liter bottles of Absolut vodka, $3 back on any pitcher or bucket of Budweiser or Bud Light and $3 back on any mixed drink or cocktail featuring 1800 Tequila.

13. Build Your Savings Without Trying

Matt and Vanessa Wiley walk down the streets of New York holding hands.
Photo courtesy of Grant Gunderson

Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn't even notice?

Digit makes that possible.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

14. Optimize Your Credit Card Use

Man and woman at the store, swiping a credit card
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If you’re not using a rewards credit card for everyday purchases, you’re missing out on free money.

You just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.

Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.

There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire.

Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.

*The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.

Bonus: Avoid Future Credit Card Debt

A customer handing a credit card over the counter to the employee.
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Next time you’re at the checkout counter to make a purchase, you could use either a credit card or a debit card. Either choice has pros and cons.

Many credit cards offer perks like cash back or travel rewards, but they also make it easy to rack up debt. If you don’t pay off your balance every month, you’ll wind up paying a lot of interest. And if you miss a payment, there are late fees.

Debit cards don’t usually offer cool rewards, but they won’t get you mired in debt either. It’s pay-as-you-go spending. The debit card is linked to your checking account, and you can’t spend money you don’t have.

Wouldn’t it be great to combine the best of both worlds? Now you can.

A new app called Debitize basically turns your credit card into a debit card, for free. With it, you can connect any credit card to a checking account.

Whenever you swipe your credit card, Debitize pulls the same amount of cash from your bank account. It stores the cash for you until it’s time to pay your credit card bill. Then it pays that bill for you a week before the due date.

The best of both worlds: You can build credit and get those sweet credit card perks, and also prevent yourself from running up unmanageable debt.

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